Should the Orioles trade for this starter from an AL rival?

The Astros could be dealing one of their starting pitchers this offseason
Championship Series - Texas Rangers v Houston Astros - Game Six
Championship Series - Texas Rangers v Houston Astros - Game Six / Carmen Mandato/GettyImages
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At the beginning of the offseason, Mike Elias identified starting pitching - particularly a starter for the "top half of the rotation" - at the top of his Christmas wish list. As the MLB offseason rolls towards the typical lull between Christmas and New Years, the Orioles starting pitching Christmas stocking remains empty. Aside from signing closer Craig Kimbrel and acquiring Kansas City righthander Jonathan Heasley, the Orioles have been relatively quiet this offseason.

The rumor mill has not been silent, however. The Orioles have been tied to several starting pitchers this offseason, including Dylan Cease, Shane Bieber, and Aaron Nola. Another talented starting pitcher, Houston Astros lefty Framber Valdez, has now emerged as another potential target.

Why would the Astros trade Framber Valdez?

According to the Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, teams are expecting the Astros to at least listen to offers for Framber Valdez, partly due to concerns regarding the luxury tax. As Rosenthal pointed out in his article, Valdez is projected to earn $12.8M this season and is under control through 2025. In addition, while the Astros have been a constant contender for the last half-decade, their farm system has struggled, dropping to dead last according to Jim Callis of MLB.com.

With the Astros needing an infusion of young talent and to possibly shed some payroll, perhaps they could look to move Valdez. However, it won't come cheap. The 30 year-old left-hander has put together four consecutive strong seasons, with his best year coming in 2022 when he went 17-6 with a 2.82 ERA and finished fifth in Cy Young voting. Despite going 12-11 with a 3.45 ERA in 2023, Valdez was still worth 4.3 WAR, only 0.1 less than his value in the 2022 season. He has been an American League All-Star 3 of the last 4 years as well.

However, Valdez's advanced numbers demonstrate that he is good, but perhaps not great. Valdez, who relies primarily on a sinker, curveball, changeup, and cutter mix, is a notorious ground ball pitcher, inducing an exceptional 54.2% ground ball rate. This makes sense, considering his whiff rate is only slightly above average at 26.7%.

While getting ground balls is great, ground balls can find holes, and the best way statistically to get outs is by swings and misses, something that Valdez is only average at. In addition, Valdez's xERA is 4.33, nearly a run higher than the 3.45 ERA he registered in 2023. According to Mlb.com, expected ERA, or xERA, is a simple 1:1 translation of Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA), converted to the ERA scale." It is arguably a better reflection of how a pitcher performed in a given year when things such as luck are taken out of the equation.) According to Baseball Savant, an xERA of 4.33 is below average.

With that said, the Astros are certainly not obligated to trade Valdez. Indeed, general manager Dana Brown recently reiterated, in questions about whether the team would trade Alex Bregman, that the 'Stros are "trying to win here." Trading Valdez, one of the team's most durable and consistent starters, is not consistent with trying to win, unless the team were to acquire win now players in exchange.

Should the Orioles pursue a trade for Framber Valdez?

In a word, yes. While the advanced statistics may not qualify Valdez as elite, his ability to get ground balls, and track record should place him at or near the top of the Orioles' list of starting pitcher candidates. In addition, Valdez is under team control for two more seasons, projected to earn $12.8 M in 2024 according to Spotrac.

That is just a tad over half of what Tyler Glasnow, another starting pitching target we considered, will earn in 2024. Glasnow was ultimately traded to the Dodgers in a four-player deal and signed a 5 year, $136 M extension with Los Angeles.

Valdez also has great durability. Unlike Glasnow and Bieber, for example, Valdez has made 31 starts in back-to-back seasons. He threw 201.1 innings in 2022, and 198 innings in 2023. For what it's worth, at least one baseball projection expects Valdez to make 31 starts in 2024, throw 195 innings, and pitch to a 3.38 ERA. Without a doubt, he would represent a terrific acquisition by the Orioles.

What would a deal for Valdez look like?

A potential trade package for Valdez is somewhat hard to predict, because as mentioned before, the Astros (a) could, and should, look to upgrade their farm system, but (b) are likely still in "win-now" mode. With this in mind, my trade proposal allows the Astros to restock their barren farm system while also adding players that could help them win now.

Orioles & Astros trade proposal

There are several reasons this deal could appeal to both teams.

From the Astros' perspective, acquiring Hays is consistent with the win-now approach and allows the team to move budding star Chas McCormick to centerfield, something that people in Houston have been clamoring for. While Hays is no superstar, he posted a solid .769 OPS last season with 16 home runs, and 67 RBIs while being worth 2.2 WAR in his first All-Star season in 2023.

He would be an upgrade over incumbent Jake Meyers, who struggled offensively to a .678 OPS in 2023. Hays has always enjoyed hitting in Houston, and as evidenced by Statcast, he would have had 7 more home runs last season if he was hitting in the band box known as Minute Maid Park.

The Astros' two top prospects are both outfielders but are not expected to arrive until 2025 at the earliest. Hays has two more years left of control. While the Astros' primary goal with this move is cost cutting, and Hays is a Major Leaguer, he is projected to make $7M less than Valdez.

Westburg was one of the Orioles' top prospects in their loaded system and played well with the team in 2023. A versatile infielder, he could potentially replace Jeremy Pena, who struggled to a .705 OPS last year, at short, or even take over at third should the Astros decide to trade Alex Bregman.

Beavers is the Orioles 9th ranked prospect and would be a solid throw-in for Houston. While the Astros outfield is set for the next several years with Kyle Tucker and McCormick, Beavers would compete with prospects Jacob Melton and Luis Baez for the final spot.

Finally, Mike Baumann helps the Astros now as a power arm who is under team control for several more years. The big righty went 10-1 with a 3.76 ERA last season and could operate as a late-inning reliever or swingman out of the Astros' pen. Either way, he is a solid fourth piece to the deal to help the Astros part with Valdez.

For the Orioles, they acquire a frontline lefty starter with durability and a reasonable contract to pair with righty ace Kyle Bradish and emerging star Grayson Rodriguez. Valdez also has playoff experience (granted, he was not great in 2023 in the postseason), something the Orioles rotation and team as a whole is greatly lacking. If the Orioles want to take a big swing for a starting pitcher, someone like Framber Valdez makes a ton of sense, if he is available.

While losing Hays, Westburg, and Beavers would hurt, the Orioles know they will have to trade quality to get quality. Fortunately, they have Hays' heir apparent in Cowser or Kjerstad. If they believe they are not ready, they could always sign a stopgap for left field, such as Robbie Grossman or Eddie Rosario, until Cowser or Kjerstad is ready.

The last time the Orioles acquired a Houston Astros starter, there were mixed results. At the deadline in 2013, the Orioles acquired Bud Norris in exchange for reserve outfielder LJ Hoes, prospect Josh Hader, and a 2014 competitive balance pick.

Norris went on to have a solid 2014 season in Baltimore, and pitched very well in the Orioles ALDS-clinching win in Detroit. While Hoes never made a big contribution in the majors, Hader went on to become one of the best closers in the league and is currently the top free agent reliever available. Ironically, he did not achieve success in Houston, as the Astros ultimately traded him to Milwaukee in a deal for Carlos Gomez.

All of this is to say that trades carry great risk. But the Orioles came into the offseason with a stated goal of upgrading the rotation. If the Astros do indeed make Valdez available, he presents a relatively safe and stable option to upgrade the starting rotation. While the cost may be steep, a trade for Valdez is definitely something the Orioles should consider.

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